Cold War, Experimental

Bartini Beriev VVA-14 – How Many Engines? 

It was not just the West who came up with some bizarre aircraft designs, the Soviets also had their share of odd-looking aircraft. The Bartini Beriev VVA-14 was a vertical take-off amphibious aircraft (yes we are aware this seems crazy!).

Designed to destroy the US Navy’s Polaris missile submarines, she was first developed in the early 1970s. However, like many unusual Soviet designs, ultimately it led to nothing other than an expensive waste of money.


VVA-14 Development

Although this was a Soviet aircraft it was actually designed by Robert Bartini, who was born in Italy. After the Fascist takeover of Italy in 1922, Bartini was sent to the Soviet Union as an aviation engineer.

He took all of the latest technological designs with him and was given Soviet citizenship.  A lot of his aircraft were based around the ground effect.

Ground effect ekranoplan.
Ground effect aircraft blur the lines between planes and boats. Arguably the most famous ground effect vehicles are the Lun-class ekranoplans. Image by Alexey Komarov CC BY-SA 4.0.

The ground effect for fixed-wing aircraft reduces the aerodynamic drag that a wing generates when it is close to a fixed surface, for example, water or the ground. The air below the aircraft, between the wing and the ground, is compressed and creates a cushion that tries to push upwards. This reduces drag and enables a much heavier aircraft to fly. 

Back to the VVA-14 – it was designed to be able to make “true” flights of high altitudes as well as take advantage of the ground effect for efficiency. Most aircraft at the time could only do one of these.

The unique looking VVA-14.
The futuristic looking VVA-14 is one of the most unique aircraft ever made.

In early 1970, with help from the Beriev Design Bureau, the VVA-14 project was born. It was going to be developed in three separate phases. First the VVA-14M1. This was to be the aerodynamics testbed. The VVA-14M2 came second, and had two engines for testing the VTOL capability. Finally, VVA-14M3 was to be a complete and fully equipped aircraft with anti-submarine warfare technology and a magnetic anomaly detector. 

This beast had a wingspan of 98 ft 5 in (30 m) and a huge empty weight of 51,227 lbs (23,236 kg). Yet as part of the design, it was supposed to be able to take off vertically! Fully laden the weight more than doubled to 114,640 lbs (52,000 kg).

VVA-14 with landing gear extended.
This monstrous aircraft was a combination of a high flying aircraft and a ground-effect aircraft. This duality led to a very unique appearance.

How would such a heavy aircraft take off vertically? Engines. Lots of engines. Specifically, 14 of them.

12 of these were Rybinsk RD-36-35PR turbofan power plants for vertical flight. Each produced 9,700 lbf (43kN) of thrust and were also used by the Yak-38 and MiG-21. The other two engines were Soloviev D-30M turbofans producing a much higher thrust output of 15,000 lbf (67kN) each. They would propel the VVA-14 to a top speed of 470 mph (760 km/h) and a maximum altitude of around 25,000 ft – 33,000 ft (10,000 m) 

Did thе VVA-14 еvеr fly?

Thе VVA-14 aircraft did successfully take flight. Dеspitе facing challеngеs and nеvеr bеing еquippеd with all thе intеndеd еnginеs, thе prototypе managеd ovеr 100 hours of flying timе. Howеvеr, duе to еnginе issuеs and thе projеct’s еvеntual halt aftеr Bartini’s dеath, its full potеntial as an amphibious, high-spееd aircraft was not rеalizеd. Onе surviving prototypе is displayеd at thе Cеntral Air Forcе Musеum in Moscow, although it suffеrеd damagе during transportation and rеmains in a state of disrеpair.

The VVA-14’s Cancellation

By 1972, the first prototype was ready to take flight and took off conventionally in September. It was later fitted with pontoons and tested in the water. This prototype never had the 12 lift engines fitted, yet managed to rack up over 103 hours of flying time.

The weird VVA-14.
Today the VVA-14 resides at the Soviet Central Air Force Museum, Moscow, in a poor state. Image by Alex Beltyukov CC BY-SA 3.0

Whilst designed to use 12 RD-36 engines, they were not really suitable for the VVA-14. This doomed the project and after Bartini died, it ran completely out of steam. By 1974, just four years after its inception, the project was brought to a close. 

One of the prototypes does still survive, however, and resides in the Central Air Force Museum in Moscow. Unfortunately, she was damaged in transit and is still in a sorry state as the damage was never repaired.

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Crew: 3
Length: 25.9 m (85 ft 2 in)
Wingspan: 30 m (98 ft 5 in)
Height: 6.7 m (22 ft 3 in)
Empty weight: 23,236 kg (51,227 lb)
Gross weight: 52,000 kg (114,640 lb)
Powerplant: 2 × Soloviev D-30M turbofan engines, 15,000 lbf thrust each
Powerplant: 12 × Rybinsk RD-36-35PR turbofan lift engines, 9,700 lbf thrust each
Maximum speed: 470 mph (760 km/h)
Range: 1,520 mi (2,450 km)
Service ceiling: 8,000–10,000 m (26,000–33,000 ft)